Storytelling & Community: Wait and Hope—and Progress

My original intent for this post was a very lengthy essay I wrote earlier in the year about color blindness, Schroedinger’s Cat, and perception of the sacred. Then I saw how (relatively) short the other posts have been and began to wonder if I had properly understood the forum. But when I saw that I was scheduled for Christmas day, that plan went out the window—wrong subject, wrong length, wrong day.

These days it seems nothing is working according to my plan or my timetable.

We normally spend Christmas day at my in-laws’ house, and most of my wife’s eight brothers and sisters show up with their families for a massive gathering where we open gifts and play games and generally enjoy each others’ company.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen this year; Mom is far too radioactive at the moment.

She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier in the year, and had her second radiation therapy session earlier this week to deal with tumors on her liver. As a result, it’s just not safe to be around her until the radiation dissipates. Not to mention that she’s far too tired to take visitors, regardless of our hopes or expectations.

Despite all our planning, history, and tradition, it simply isn’t working out according to schedule.

It feels to me that Mormon literature is following a similar trajectory. Over the years so many people have expected so many things of us, and we simply aren’t following the timetable. We have not established Mormon thought as a common element of the mainstream dialog; our Zion is not yet recognized by the world (or even by ourselves) as the shining city on the hill that represents the best of both moral and social accomplishment; we have not yet produced Miltons and Shakespeares whose elegance and insight transcend time and place.

Of course, neither has anyone else in the last hundred-plus years. Reasons include radical social and political shift, transformational technology and business practice, and all the fads, trends, and distractions that inevitably throw a spanner in the works of the best laid plans. Not to mention the vast noise of a massive and expanding marketplace.

But it’s hard to get too down about that. We Mormons believe in progress, in line upon line, in holding fast to that which is good and enduring to the end. If we haven’t reached our goal yet, that just means we need to keep working—and recognize that while the shape of accomplishment may be quite different than what we planned, the result can still lead to the same place.

Two thousand years ago events occurred that failed to live up to local expectation, but that nonetheless represented the beginning of a marvelous work. Yet the plan still progresses, and all of it goals will be fulfilled, if not quite in sync with the local schedule or exactly according to the expectations offered at different times along the way.

I believe the same is true of our quest to create worthy Mormon literature for both ourselves and the world. All we can do is continue to hope, and to work, and to progress. The details will work themselves out.

My family is still visiting the in-laws this year, but we’ll wait a week to do it. The activities of the visit will be different, the timing will be off, and the context will be significantly altered over previous years. But the essentials will still be there, and all the more memorable this year when we had to push our family gathering back a week because Grandma was too radioactive to see us on Christmas day.

Delayed a bit, but not indefinitely deferred. Changed in the details, but not in its core essence.

Merry Christmas. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

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14 Responses to Storytelling & Community: Wait and Hope—and Progress

  1. Scott,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and positive comments. I’ve been experiencing my own share of frustration over Mormon letters (most recently including flak that the BYU Bookstore apparently has experienced over carrying my book). It’s good to remember that things can go forward nonetheless, even if "going forward" doesn’t happen on our timetable–or, for that matter, if "forward" isn’t always the direction we thought it was. (And I’m still looking forward to the lengthy Schroedinger’s Cat essay, too.)

  2. J. Scott Bronson says:

    I am so looking forward to your essays, Scott. I always feel smarter after I’ve been a party to your thinking.

  3. Darlene says:

    Nicely done, Scott. The whole point of the Advent and the atonement is that it is enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other, every day, and getting up again when we stumble. It’s so easy for me, as a writer, to get discouraged when I don’t feel as talented or make as much progress as I would like, especially when I add the pressure to prove to God and man that I’m using my time wisely. But if I can just focus on continuing to move forward in the HOPE that I’m making progress, I can have peace. This applies to my spiritual journey as well.

    And I don’t think you should shy away from a long post here. We want to hear that other essay.

  4. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    I’m looking forward to that essay, too, but I love what you’ve said here.

    We just can’t begin to imagine the path ahead of us, but if we trust in He Who gave us our gifts and our dreams, and if we do the best we can with them, and seek His guidance and His will, we’ll come out so much further ahead and in so much better a place than we could have planned for.

    Maybe the whole point is to be open and flexible to the way He wants us to go, and to prepare for whatever He has in store for us, in every way we can. That way, we can do with our gifts things we never planned on, but we can be sure they’ll be things we’ll be so glad He planned for us.

    Best wishes to you and to your loved ones, and to all of us and our loved ones as well.

  5. Scott Parkin says:

    I know I was supposed to post my planned essay, but I felt like I should at least try to honor the day. It’s a theme that’s been popping up a lot in recent days–that despite distractions, we can still reach to extraordinary heights if only we will stay focused and keep plugging. Let the details change to fit local context; the core direction remains fixed.

    Next month I plan to post the long essay, then over the following four months or so I plan to do a reader’s analysis of some genre fiction that directly addresses issues of religion–look at how different people handle it. Sadly, I seem unable to say much of anything in less that 3000 words, so these will tend to be long.

  6. Selwyn says:

    Thanks for the excellent reminder that we do still progress, even though we need to wait sometimes. I’ll try to remember that next time I’m in a holding pattern. Waiting and hoping for your other essay in the meantime.

  7. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Scott, I hope that each of us is blessed with such a family as yours in times of trial. I’m sure we’ll all send up a prayer for your "Grandma" and the rest of your family. God bless.

    And the point you make is excellent. Genuinely thought provoking. Thank you for making it.

  8. Jack Harrell says:

    Scott, I just want to let you know that you’re my first blog-reading experience. Last week I called my daughter who’s in grad school in Illinois and asked how blogs "work." I logged onto irreantum.org this morning, and your comment was the first one there.

    Thanks for your thoughts, and to all the good messages posted here so far. Obviously, there’s much good potential in this forum. I can’t help but think that this forum will play a significant role in the hope you express for the future of Mormon letters.

  9. Angela H. says:

    Hooray! Essays by Scott! One more reason to celebrate the advent of this new blog. Thanks for your comments.

  10. Ed Snow says:

    Scott, a very moving piece. Good to run into you and your writing again.

  11. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    Scott, you were asked to be a blogger here by those who know full well how long your posts can be, and we are all looking forward to reading them, 3000 words and more.

    Please don’t hesitate to post something because you think it’s long.

  12. J. Scott Bronson says:

    Yeah, Scott…what Kathleen said. In fact, I’m gonna publish my novel here. It’s only 50,000 words.

  13. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    J. Scott, I think that’s a great idea. Just think how long you could be blogging here with a serialized novel. At 3000-4000 words per installment, one installment per month, you could be at it for almost a year and a half.

  14. J. Scott Bronson says:

    Really? It’s even got prayers and promptings. Wait a minute…I can see by your Gravatar icon that you’re making sport of me. As you can see by my Gravatar icon, I am in complete and utter earnest.

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